Opinion: Showing support or pandering for downtown Oregon City’s first Pride event?

Amamos a Isah

In an article titled “Downtown Oregon City events manager moves to Gladstone job,” published online on July 6, Kelli Upkes, president of the Downtown Oregon City Association (DOCA) Board of Directors is quoted as saying “Our board unanimously supports the Pride event, unfortunately we don’t have the bandwidth to sponsor another event with our staffing.”

As a member of the planning committee and the original sponsor of the first-ever Oregon City Pride Night, I would like to go on record to state that never once was it expressed to me that DOCA’s Board supported Pride Night, nor was that ever the tenor of any meeting I attended.

Of the many reasons that were communicated to me as to why DOCA could not or would not sanction the event, this is the first time that “staffing bandwidth” has been mentioned by the board.

At the time of the planning of the Pride event, Events Manager Marci Jory was still employed at DOCA. She and I had a brief conversation in which she expressed complete support of the event and also mentioned concerns that she had a lot on her plate and couldn’t take on another event. I assured her we had made it clear to DOCA that DOCA employee Wesley Hanson and I would, with DOCA’s backing, be responsible for the planning of the entire event. We were interested in DOCA’s resources to host the event in downtown Oregon City, and DOCA’s status as a 501©3 nonprofit would allow our sponsors’ contributions to be tax deductible. However, we never asked for any kind of staffing or planning help, and were fully willing to take that on ourselves.

The fact is that the Pride Night event did not go through the “correct” procedural channels to be approved, due to internal miscommunication within the organization. Hanson had been involved in planning other events, such as the Harvest Festival, and was given the green light by the former executive director, who since vacated the position without getting the event as discussed approved by the DOCA Board. To Hanson’s knowledge, the event was on the calendar and he proceeded with planning.

While the DOCA Board of Directors had every right to decide not to take on Pride Night due to approval for the event not going through the appropriate channels, there were many instances where it became apparent that DOCA was more interested in trying to maintain the status quo with businesses downtown who were opposed to a Pride event because they don’t actively support or understand why LGBTQ+ Pride events are important. I personally heard Upkes tell Hanson in the DOCA office that supporting Pride Night had become “too political.”

Additionally, Upkes is quoted as saying “We’re in a rebuilding process with our relationships with the business district too, so it’s a good opportunity to reactivate.” DOCA is walking on eggshells with business owners on Main Street and caved to the pushback from some owners who are at worst bigoted and at best highly uneducated in LGBTQ+ matters.

Putting on an event is often a thankless task; however, at every turn, DOCA’s decision-making indicated a lack of support. DOCA should beware of pandering to maintain the status quo of businesses who merely tolerate LGBTQ+ consumers (if that).

As our event clearly indicated, there is a sizable contingent of LGBTQ+ residents who are discerning consumers. We want to know that we are welcome, respected, seen and safe. Unfortunately, DOCA is yet another organization that chose not to show support. The discrepancies in reasons given for their lack of support speak for themselves.

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